Producers and consumers share beef, kudos, and future visions

Photos by Patrick Shea Leading the proceedings for the SLV Local Foods Coalition, Jae Saunders introduced speakers, directed participants, and moderated the afternoon discussion at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in Center on Nov. 19. Lisa Bodey guided a breakout session with community members to articulate food system success stories, failures, and a vision for the future for the San Luis Valley food system. Before breaking into groups at the The SLV Local Foods Coalition feedback session in Center on Nov. 19, Saguache County cattle rancher George Whitten described his philosophy and techniques for maximizing soil health.

CENTER — The San Luis Valley Local Foods Coalition hosted the second of six community outreach programs at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in Center on Nov. 19. Established in 2009, the SLV Local Foods Coalition attacks food issues from multiple angles.

Like the first event in Conejos County on Nov. 12, the four-hour gathering in Center featured a meal for all participants and multiple breakout sessions. With lunch catered by Leonardo’s, tacos fueled participants. They responded with suggestions and expertise, representing local farmers, ranchers, processors, restaurants, grocery stores, and resident consumers.

But first, they received instructions from Saunders and a presentation from Saguache County veteran rancher George Whitten. Whitten described how regularly scooting his cattle along has significantly improved the health of his soil. By moving his electric fence to keep cows from overgrazing, the mixture of grasses creates excellent forage. Whitten said his healthy soil seems to retain more water than most of his neighbors' report.

Each session followed the same format. Participants devoted time to identify “what’s working” in the current food system within the Valley. Next, they listed what’s not working, also writing them on sticky notes. The moderator aggregated the notes under general categories, and a separate note-taker typed discussion points on the fly.

After two separate breakout sessions, the group reconvened in the church basement and spoke with representatives from the University of Colorado, the Colorado State University San Luis Valley extension, and Valley Roots Food Hub. The number of note-takers, presenters, moderators, third-party representatives, and translators matched the participants for the afternoon.

Published in 2021, the San Luis Valley Local Roots Guide lists operations from as far away as Palisade, Denver, Lamar, Crested Butte, and Taos, N.M. But the bulk of the farmers and other suppliers come from the San Luis Valley — more than 80. Four work out of the Rio Grande Farm Park in Alamosa, and others stretch from Creede to Villa Grove, Fort Garland, Jaroso, and Antonito.

An organization baked into the SLV Local Foods Coalition, Valley Roots Food Hub aggregates products from local producers and distributes throughout Colorado. Their website, www.valleyrootsfoodhub.com, describes separate paths for distributing to consumers, restaurants, and other customers.

Products fill the food pyramid. Produce features mixed vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes, leafy greens, beans, and mushrooms. Animal-based protein sources include yak, grass-fed beef, bison, chicken, sausage, and trout. Other items include a variety of cheeses, honey, garlic, cherries, peaches, cheesecakes, muffins, quiche, energy bars, soups, potato chips, and stone-ground flour.

To boost awareness, the SLV Local Foods Coalition is also sponsoring a contest called the SLV Food Project PhotoVoice. Participants have until Nov. 30 to submit two photographs with captions that represent food and agriculture. Contestants can submit entries via text message to 719-515-9118 or they can post images to Instagram with the #SLVFoodProject hashtag.

With Conejos and Saguache counties covered, the next community-listening session will take place on Dec. 10 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Ski-Hi Complex in Monte Vista. After Rio Grande County, the SLV Local Foods Coalition will conclude the tour after the holidays with visits to Mineral, Alamosa, and Costilla counties.

In the meantime, participants can complete surveys for farmers and ranchers, business operators, and community members. Staff made printed surveys available at the Center session. For more information, visit the SLV Local Foods Coalition — https://slvlocalfoods.org/.

Photos by Patrick Shea Leading the proceedings for the SLV Local Foods Coalition, Jae Saunders introduced speakers, directed participants, and moderated the afternoon discussion at the United Methodist Church Fellowship Hall in Center on Nov. 19. Lisa Bodey guided a breakout session with community members to articulate food system success stories, failures, and a vision for the future for the San Luis Valley food system. Before breaking into groups at the The SLV Local Foods Coalition feedback session in Center on Nov. 19, Saguache County cattle rancher George Whitten described his philosophy and techniques for maximizing soil health.

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